The health prospects of children may be determined by the nine months in the womb and the first two years of life, scientists from Southampton University believe.

The researchers, led by Professor David Barker, believe a number of conditions - such as diabetes, heart disease in old age, future weight and life expectancy - could be influenced in the first 1,000 days.

Based on decades of research, the scientists found several key stages in a child's development, and where, if conditions were not met, it could cause problems at a later date.

Many of the key stages occur in the womb, and can be affected by a mother's poor diet, smoking, stress, drugs or alcohol.

The scientists also believe there is a link between low birth rate and the risk of developing heart disease in later life. On average, a baby weighing less than 5lb 7oz is twice as likely to die from a heart attack in later life as one weighing 9lb 7oz.

Professor Barker said: "It is about building a body that the baby can live off. The baby lives off the mother's body - not what she snacks on during pregnancy.

"What we are seeing is a window of opportunity where we can make better people."

Posted by Robert Mair on 16.8.11 Please send your comments on this article to: penny.hosie@pavpub.com